Each week we receive calls from landlords and tenants who need a real estate attorney to advise them regarding residential security deposits. Nearly every residential landlord requires that a tenant pay a security deposit before moving into a residential property. Even though security deposits are common place, it is surprising how many misconceptions both landlords and tenants have regarding California security deposit law. It is also important to understand that different laws apply regarding mobile homes, commercial properties, and boats. This is the first installment of a two part blog dealing only with laws that relate to residential properties. This part will deal with security deposit issues that arise at the beginning of a lease.
What Is Security? California Civil Code section 1950.5 defines “security” as any fee, payment, charge or deposit that is required by a landlord at the start of a tenancy for costs associated with the tenant that can be used to reimburse the landlord for any purpose (except for the application of a screening fee and consumer credit report prior to the time the lease is made.) No lease or agreement may ever categorize a “security” as nonrefundable.
How Much Can Be Charged For A Security Deposits? When a landlord requires a tenant to pay a security deposit, the amount of the security deposit cannot exceed the costs of two month’s rent if the residential property is unfurnished and three month’s rent if the residential property is furnished. There are some exceptions to this rule but they deal primarily with advance payments of rent when a lease is for more than six months. (Civil Code section 1950.5(c).) Just because a security deposit is given a different name such as “pet deposit” or “last month’s rent” does not change the fact that it is a security deposit and must comply with the limits provided by law.